IT is more than odd that President-elect Clinton, who never misses a chance to deliver an opinion on just about anything, has remained almost totally silent on an issue that was prominent in each of the previous three presidential elections - the war on drugs.
It may be that Mr. Clinton has thrown in with many others in the policymaking establishment who believe that certain problems - homelessness, poverty, and drugs, among them - will always be with us and, therefore, are unsolvable.
The Republican solution over the last decade has concentrated on the drug user, bursting the seams of the nation's jails with people from the low, or user, end of the drug trade. At the same time, the Nancy Reagans and William Bennetts (the former drug czar) urged those with an appetite for narcotics to "Just Say No." Others pointed to the nation's long, open borders, and insisted there was no way a free and open society could stem the oceanic flood of cocaine and heroin into the United States.
Still others argued that US-assisted crop-switching in South America was the key to stemming the supply.
All this has been an enormous fraud upon the American people. It is nonsense to concentrate on issues of individual responsibility as a way of curbing widespread demand for drugs. The British understood this when they went to war with China in the 19th century to expand opium addiction among the Chinese as a means of repatriating much of the empire's national treasure, then being spent on Oriental silk, tea, and gold.
What to do?
New York prosecutor Robert Morgenthau has shown the way in his pursuit of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal and of ultimate Washington insider Clark Clifford. The bank was long known in industry and government intelligence circles as, among other things, a huge money-laundering center for international drug traffickers. Some of the laundered drug money may have eventually found its way to powerful people with ties to BCCI.
Was the government's persistent refusal to relentlessly follow this money trail related to the number of well-connected figures at the end of it?
The drug business and the perdition it has wrought throughout our nation depend upon "respectable" people who can move vast sums of money within and across national borders.
Let us be clear. We are not talking about suitcases stuffed with 10s and 20s. The multibillion-dollar narcotics trade must be likened to an aircraft carrier: It is simply impossible to move that much money without the cooperation of many rich, connected - and often respected - people.
What Clinton should do is to appoint Mr. Morgenthau as the nation's drug czar. He would have only one responsibility, but with broad authority: Follow the bucks. Don't bother him with interdiction. Drug money has nothing to do with AWACs. It's all in the computers. Diplomacy over South American crop-switching is hopeless; peasants can earn more than 10 times as much for planting coca as they can for any other crop. Morgenthau, who has blasted government neglect of the narcotics money pyramid, would follo w the dollars and arrest anyone at the bank counter who tries to take the money out. The CIA and FBI have proved in the Clifford case, and in Iraqgate, that they know how to trace money from its source to wherever it winds up.
If Clinton is to become serious about his most pressing domestic crisis, he'll launch the first genuine war on drugs ever - a battle to bring to justice those at the top of the money chain.